What Brands Need to Know About Back-to-School Shopping Habits

Get your slice of the annual educational spending spree

With spending on back-to-school and college estimated to reach $74.9 billion this year, the annual end-of-summer scramble for new clothes, tech products, pencils and pens now rivals the holiday season. Of course, the opportunity to capture those dollars is certainly not lost on brands.

And now, more than ever, parents are turning to tech to guide them in all stages of the purchase journey, from research to reviews to price comparisons. “Retailers are working hard to compete by making shopping easier, less complex and financially competitive, but as a whole, consumers are still a few steps ahead,” said Sam Huston, chief strategy officer at search engine marketing company iProspect.

This is especially true for millennial parents, digital natives who grew up using the Internet for researching and purchasing items. “It isn’t so much about receptivity to online ads as it is about meeting this shopper across every channel, through the entire buying experience,” Huston said. “The retailers who will be the most successful this year are the ones that deliver customer experiences that are personal, adaptive and valuable.”

One of the tips iProspect has for back-to-school marketers is to optimize offerings using data from search queries, and offer value in deals and coupons. But the biggest concern relates to the proliferation of mobile, which allows consumers an unprecedented opportunity to not only look at reviews in-store, but also price shop. A study from eMarketer found that a whopping 97 percent of millennials—and 91 percent of Gen X—employ their smartphones for comparison shopping while patronizing locations, and almost two-thirds said they had decided against a purchase because of information they got via their mobile device.

Social sites are also a growing opportunity for brands. Back-to-school searches on Pinterest have grown 377 percent since last year, iProspect noted, recommending that marketers create a Pinterest board to enhance engagement.

But while digital has never been a more important part of the shopping experience, a study by software platform Gigwalk found that showrooming is not a significant issue during the back-to-school shopping season. In fact, 77 percent of respondents said they’d be doing their actual shopping in a store, not online.

Infographic: Carlos Monteiro